Journalists’ Families at Risk in Balochistan

By Malik Siraj Akbar

On October 25, unidentified armed men carried out an unprecedented attack on the children of the Khuzdar-based veteran journalist Nadeem Gurgnari. While Mr. Gurgnari’s 25-year old son, Siraj Nadeem, who had come from Quetta to spend Eid holidays with the family, immediately passed away as a result of the deadly assault, his other son, Manzoor Nadeem, 22, who had been injured in the same attack, succumbed to the injuries in a local hospital the next day. The victims’ father worked as a correspondent for Daily Express and Express News television channel in Khuzdar. In addition, he served as the president of the Khuzdar Press Club.

The Paris-based international media watch-dog Reporters Without Borders (R.S.F.) has called upon Pakistani government to “conduct an independent investigation into the double murder without delay and to not rule out the possibility that it was a reprisal targeting the victims’ father, a well-known journalist.”

Renewed attacks on journalists in Khuzdar have triggered anew discussions about the state of journalists’ security after last month’s killing of Abdul Haq Baloch, a correspondent of ARY News channel. Journalists have carried out peaceful protests across the province to express their disappointment over the government’s failure to end the cycle of violence against reporters working in Balochistan. The government has had a very poor record of bringing to justice those who abduct, torture or murder journalists. One reason for this failure is because anti-nationalist armed groups allegedly funded by the Pakistani intelligence agencies are often blamed for these killings of the Baloch reporters. These proxy groups dictate journalists’ reporting, urge them not to report the activities of Baloch nationalist parties and groups that seek an independent Balochistan. When the journalists view these warnings as a brazen intrusion in their professional duties and refuse to comply with them, they end up dead and dumped.

The killing of Mr. Gurgnari’s two sons is deeply deplorable for a number of reasons. It is the first time in Balochistan’s media history when a journalist’s family was directly attacked apparently because of his professional activities. While such incidents had occurred in the past from the Federally Tribal Administered Areas (FATA), working conditions in Balochistan for journalists had not turned precarious to such an extent that they should lead to deadly attacks on their family members. This is yet again a new depressing chapter in Balochistan’s worsening conflict.

At least two former presidents of the Khuzdar Press Club, a secretary general and a few members have been murdered with absolute impunity in the recent past which forced the reporters to shut down the district press club due to fear and anger. Some correspondents, after receiving death threats and seeing their colleagues being killed one after the other, have fled Khuzdar. Now, they realize that relocating to another city is not an antidote to this ghastly wave of violence because the attackers are now out to hunt down their family members as well.

It is reassuring that international media watchdogs like the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and International Federation of Journalists have stood by the journalists of Balochistan, particularly those working in the district of Khuzdar. The media and civil society in Balochistan and elsewhere in Pakistan also seems to be paying more attention and expressing constant concern about the state of affairs. What is heartbreaking is, nonetheless, the government’s lackluster response to the whole situation.

On October 2, 2012, Interior Minister Rehman Malik promised that the government would constitute a fact-finding commission to investigate the killing of Mr. Haq. According to Mr. Malik, a senior judge would lead the commission which would also include representatives of the journalists’ community. He promised that besides the commission, the Federal Investigation Authority (F.I.A.) and the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) would assist the commission to ascertain the causes of the reporter’s murder. Only time will tell whether the Commission succeeds in debunking the facts about the reporter’s murder or its formation was a mere trick by the Interior Minister to appease the journalists who were protesting Mr. Haq’s killing in front of the National Press Club in Islamabad.

According to Riaz Mengal, a former president of the Khuzdar Press Club, Mr. Haq had not spoken to his friends about any threats that he received. That is understandable because he, as the Secretary General of the Khuzdar Press Club, probably did not want to dim the morale of his fellow journalists. But that does not mean he did not see death coming because his fellow journalists had already been killed in the recent past.

Who better than Mr. Riaz Mengal can testify about the groups that threaten journalists in Khuzdar? Much before the beginning of targeted killing of Baloch nationalists and intellectuals, Mr. Mengal, a correspondent of the Urdu language Daily Intekhab, was the first high-profile victim of what eventually culminate into the deadly pro-Islamabad underground group the Baloch Musla Defai Tanzeem. Do not get fooled by the organization’s name. It is not a Baloch nationalist group as its title makes it appear so. Instead, this group, according to local sources, receives funding from Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, to target kill Baloch political opponents and vocal journalists.

The Tanzeem is allegedly headed by two sons of Senator (Retired) Naseer Mengal, also a former federal minister for petroleum and an supporter of General Pervez Musharraf. In October 2007, Mr. Mengal’s sons kidnapped journalist Riaz Mengal in Khuzdar for his reporting that exposed the Minister’s family’s involvement in illegal smuggling of vehicles. During his detention, the poor reporter was beaten up by his captors and moved from one location to the other. He was lucky to escape a month later. On his release, Mr. Mengal exhibited enormous courage to go public and expose his kidnappers.

Had the government taken action against Mr. Mengal’s kidnappers, Balochistan would be a much safer place for journalists and political activists. Five years after Mr. Mengal’s kidnapping, for instance, those abductors have become so powerful that they are blamed for killing hundreds of Baloch political activists and covertly cooperating with intelligence agencies to illegally whisk away political opponents.

The commission that will probe the killing of journalist Abdul Haq Baloch should also be entrusted the responsibility to investigate the killing of the two sons of Mr. Gurgnari. We are not too far from the truth. What the government should do is to honestly follow the hints and show commitment to dismantle such groups that are responsible for the killing of journalists in Balochistan. (Courtesy: The Baloch Hal)


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